Recently I was pointed to an article that revealed Land Rover’s plans to reach into the annals of history and resurrect their earliest vehicle. The intention being to feature the original Land Rover Series 1 again after almost 70 years! The company promises to restore 25 of its 1948 off-roader vehicles to the early specifications using authentic parts. It made me look at our Londolozi Land Rover fleet, where one very special little car stood out and I realised that we too had done exactly this.
Londolozi has had a long-standing relationship with this iconic brand. Dave Varty talks about the first two 1959 Series 11 Land Rovers we owned and how they used to keep the ‘fleet’ on the road by “cannibalising parts from one vehicle to keep the other going”. The second vehicle purchased cost just R750 at the time and Dave recounts how the money had to be borrowed in great haste from Dave and John’s grandmother to make sure they landed the deal. It seems that the team spent more time with their heads under the bonnet or pushing those cars than actually in them but many amazing memories and fun were had during those early pioneering days and it was in those vehicles that Londolozi began to craft the game drive experience. When you look at the fleet today you see a very different collection of vehicles with shiny new models of the Land Rover Defender Puma heading out for drive as well as the possibility of an electric Land Rover waiting in the wings.
In amongst them though is a true gem, what Bron Varty refers to as “the chitty chitty bang bang of the bushveld”. And it is no wonder because this little vehicle played a big part in her and her brother Boyd’s childhood. The car I’m referring to is the short wheel based Series 1 86 inch Land Rover, more affectionately called ‘BB Jeep’. The very same model that Land Rover is now promising to refurbish.
Dave had been taught to drive in this exact same model of vehicle by his father and so in the early 80’s, he decided to purchase one so that his young children could learn to drive too. It was the family’s very first game drive vehicle and Bron says, “at the tender ages of just 6 and 7 we could be seen tearing around in the little car with the massive heart. And thus the name BBJeep (Bron and Boyd Jeep) was born”.
“It’s a teacher. It has seen so many of Londolozi’s children grow and learn confidence in it. It lies at the heart of the Londolozi story”, says Shan Varty. Being original and authentic, she has become a legend around these parts and when you look back at events and memories made here, you see her featuring in the very DNA and story telling of Londolozi. They range from the classy to the hysterical…
Then in 2013, after many years of hard labour, she was sent for a bit of TLC. Dr Saul Braun, who is a long time Londolozi guest and passionate vintage car enthusiast, took BB Jeep and re-built her. Saul is one of South Africa’s renowned plastic surgeons and so Bron says “we knew she was in good hands”. Saul says, “she’s a really cute little thing and amazing in that she is completely original and still has her original personality.” Although there was a lot of ‘bush mechanics’ involved in keeping her going, parts were only fixed and no original parts were thrown away. Remember that this model was introduced in 1948, which makes it even more remarkable. Saul did say that the bush had got to her though and much of the hard work was in fact cleaning away a lot of “biological material” that had built up over the years. Snakes have made their home in it, kids have driven it with a certain lack of finesse and it even had a hornet’s nest inside it. Saul says “she’s as hard as a rock, which I suppose is exactly how they were built” and probably the reason she still stands strong today.
Londolozi’s history has both been moulded by and grown alongside Land Rover’s. It seems that both recognise the importance of paying homage to the past and are taking a moment to celebrate where it all started, with this very car. We’re so glad to still have this trooper around to this very day, a reminder of where we came from and how it was that we got there.